Peter Francisco: A One Man Army
"Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the War, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One-Man Army." George Washington
And we know that all things: work together for good to them that love God. To them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Part of the Bicentennial Series that came out in the 1970’s
The principle that all things work together for good can sometimes be so painful to understand. Imagine that you are a father of a 4-5 year old boy who is suddenly kidnapped and you will never see him again. You will never know that his efforts helped forge a nation that was to be built on biblical principles. This is where our story begins
On the morning of June 23, 1765, a ship dropped anchor in the James River at City Point, now a part of Hopewell, Virginia. A longboat was lowered in the water, and two sailors rowed it to the wharf where they deposited a young boy. The sailors left and the ship immediately slipped back down the river.
Peter was found sitting on a dock. The boy was 5 years old and large for his age. He had olive-skin with black hair and dark eyes, which revealed an engaging manner despite his predicament. He spoke a foreign language mixed with French, or Spanish -- and kept repeating the name "Pedro Francisco."
The town fathers found an unused bed in a dock warehouse, housewives arranged for him to be well fed and the old watchman on the wharf guarded him at night. As the story of Peter Francisco's mystifying appearance spread, Judge Anthony Winston, an uncle of famed orator Patrick Henry, investigated. As to Peter’s beginnings he liked the boy and took him, as an indentured servant, to his sprawling plantation on the old Lynchburg–Richmond stage road. Winston loved him like a son the young giant who could do the work of three men, and planned to adopt him formally.
In the spring of 1775, he took Francisco with him to Richmond for a meeting of the Virginia Convention in St. John's Church. Francisco was outside listening through an open window when, on March 23, Patrick Henry delivered his impassioned speech that ended in the declaration, "Give me liberty, or give me death!” Tempers flared as delegates hotly debated the colony's relationship with Great Britain. Young Peter contributed to the excitement when he broke up one tavern dispute by lifting the combatants into the air and banging them together until they ceased their argument.
In adulthood Peter was destined to attain the height of six-feet-six-inches--nearly a foot taller than the average man at the time--and weighed at least 260 pounds. Already of surpassing stature by his early teens, the youth was instructed in the brawny trade of blacksmithing--an obvious calling for a person of his size and amazing strength.
Peter was ready right there to take up arms against the British oppressors, but Judge Winston prevailed upon him to wait. Though Peter was large enough to go to war, he was not quite old enough. In 1776 Winston relented, and at the age of sixteen Peter enlisted with the 10th Virginia regiment as a private.
Francisco received his first taste of action in September 1777 at Brandywine Creek in neighboring Pennsylvania. General Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, attempted to halt the advance toward Philadelphia of some 12,500 British troops under the command of General William Howe.
Outflanked by Howe, the Americans suffered a defeat in the ensuing battle, and Washington's army was forced into a disorderly retreat. The regiment of which Francisco was a member held the line at a narrow defile called Sandy Hollow Gap for a crucial forty-five minutes. This allowed the rest of the force to withdraw and preventing an all-out rout. The young soldier suffered a gunshot wound to his leg during this hard-fought rear-guard action.
While convalescing in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Peter encountered the Marquis de Lafayette, who as a twenty-year-old major general in Washington's Army also had been wounded in the fray. Their vast differences in rank notwithstanding, the two young men recuperated together and reportedly became friends.
Francisco was with the troops at Fort Mifflin on Port Island in the Delaware River from late October to mid-November. This post was abandoned under ferocious British shelling, forcing the defenders into the wintry hell of Valley Forge, where Francisco was hospitalized for two of those agonizing months.
Francisco fought at Monmouth (near present-day Freehold, New Jersey) on June 28, 1778. A musket ball tore into his right thigh, leaving a wound that bothered him for the rest of his life.
On July 15-16, 1779 the young Goliath took part in the daring surprise attack led by General "Mad Anthony" Wayne on Stony Point. During the attack Francisco suffered his third wound of the war, a nine-inch gash in the stomach, but that didn't stop him from killing three enemy grenadiers and capturing the enemy's flag. After recuperating in Fishkill, New York, the wounded warrior bided his time with the troops in various locations until December 1779. Then his three-year tour of duty expired and he returned to Virginia.
During the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780 Francisco achieved one of his most shining moments. Overtaken and surrounded by the enemy during the panicked American retreat, the lad speared a British cavalryman with a bayonet, hoisted him from his horse, and then, climbing onto the steed himself, escaped through the enemy line by pretending to be a Tory sympathizer. Catching up with his fleeing comrades, he gave the mount to his colonel, thereby saving the exhausted officer's life.
Next, seeing that one of two American cannons was being left behind, Peter--as the story has it--crouched beneath the 1,100-pound gun, lifted it from its carriage and onto his shoulder, and carried it off the field to prevent its falling into enemy hands. Some historians have questioned whether such a feat is possible, but during the American bicentennial celebrations of 1975-76 the U.S. Postal Service honored him with a stamp. No wonder that, by the time of this battle, Peter had acquired the reputation as the strongest man in America.
Benson Lossing reported in his 1850 Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Francisco, “a brave Virginian, cut down eleven men in succession with his broadsword. One of the guards pinned Francisco's leg to his horse with a bayonet. Forbearing to strike, he assisted the assailant to draw his bayonet forth, when, with terrible force, he brought down his broadsword and cleft the poor fellow's head to his shoulders!”
Despite his latest wound, Francisco did not leave the battle. In one final assault against the British he killed two more of the enemy before receiving a bayonet thrust "in his right thigh the whole length of the bayonet, entering above the knee and coming out at the socket of his hip." As his comrades retreated, the fallen cavalryman was left for dead on the field. A Quaker named Robinson is said to have taken Francisco to his home and cared for him until he healed.
Eventually his career of terrorizing British troops ended. He was granted, however, the supreme satisfaction of being present when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.
Peter then returned to Richmond and received an education. He married Susannah Anderson and had a son and daughter before his wife died in 1790. Catherine Brooke became Peter's second wife in 1794, and two years after her death in 1821 (they had three sons and one daughter) he married Mary Grymes West, the widow of Major West, a Virginia planter.
Peter Francisco passed away, apparently from appendicitis, on January 16, 1831. Many other stories have been told of this giant of a man, but I hope we never forget his courage to fight for freedom in the American Revolution.
You may be reading this and you have never answered the most important question in your life and that is …
How does anyone get to heaven?
First realize that they cannot get to heaven on their own merits. The Bible says that “For all have sinned and come short (that means everybody can’t get to Heaven on their own) of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
Jesus Christ (who is the Son of the living God) came to earth and was born of a virgin woman (therefore he was not born of the curse of mankind) he lived a sinless life and died on a cross for all the sins in the world. Three days later, God the Father raised Him from the dead. He was seen of 500 witnesses and returned to heaven. God’s word says that if we believe these things and call upon the Lord, we will be saved. Romans 10:9 - 13